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Japan beats New Zealand at Women’s World Cup; Mexico and England tie

Former Los Angeles Sol midfielder Aya Miyama scored the goal of her career on Monday when she curled a free kick into the back of the net to give Japan a 2-1 victory over New Zealand at the sixth Women’s World Cup in Germany.

Later, Mexico, inspired by the play of 16-year-old goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago, held favored England to a 1-1 tie in the first almost-upset of the 16-nation tournament.

The two results left Japan at the top of Group B, with England and Mexico tied for second and New Zealand in last place. The top two finishers in each of the four groups advance to the quarterfinals.

Mexico’s achievement, in front of 18,072 in Wolfsburg, was equally the result of good play on the part of Coach Leonardo Cuellar’s team and sloppy play by England.

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England took the lead in the 21st minute on a headed goal by Fara Williams off a corner kick by Rachel Yankey. Mexico tied it up 11 minutes later on a memorable long-range shot by forward Monica Ocampo. The swerving shot, from 30 yards, left England’s goalkeeper, Karen Bardsley, clawing at nothing but air.

Although there were further chances at both ends, the game ended in a tie. “We have in our mind that we can achieve something special here,” Cuellar said.

Said England Coach Hope Powell: “I’m pleased we didn’t lose the game.”

The day’s opening game in Group B saw the favored Japanese take on the New Zealanders in front of 12,538 in Bochum. Japan’s class soon showed, while New Zealand’s robust play resulted in 15 fouls being called against the Kiwis and three players being yellow-carded.

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The match began brightly as the teams traded goals in the first 15 minutes.

First, a through ball by Japan’s Shinobu Ohno split the New Zealand defense and allowed forward Yuki Nagasato to run onto the pass and lob goalkeeper Jenny Bindon, giving Japan the lead.

That was in the sixth minute. Six minutes later, New Zealand drew level. Defender Ria Percival sent a pinpoint cross into the goal area and forward Amber Hearn rose to head it into the Japanese net to tie the score at 1.

That was how it stayed until the 68th minute, when Miyama broke the deadlock with her game-winner.

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Japan Coach Norio Sasaki had brought a quick forward, Mana Iwabuchi, into the match as a substitute 10 minutes into the second half and the move paid off. In trying to stop one of Iwabuchi’s darting runs, New Zealand’s captain, Rebecca Smith, resorted to a foul on the edge of the penalty area.

Miyama curled the resulting free kick over the defensive wall and into the net to give Japan the victory.

“The Japanese team dazzled everybody, as per usual, particularly in the final 20 minutes after Iwabuchi came on,” said New Zealand Coach John Herdman.

grahame.jones@latimes.com


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